Writing for Persona

This is quite a long post – there’s a writing opportunity at the end, you might want to skip to it.

If there was one thing which kept me happy whilst we were coming up with the format for Persona, it was this single thought: thank fuck I won’t have to actually write it.

I can vividly remember the fear in the eyes of our writers when I first explained exactly how it was going to work – even though they weren’t all in the room or even visible at the time. Which suggests I might well be imagining that bit. Up until that point, we thought it was going to be a simple case of taking a twelve minute short film script and breaking it up into minute and a half pieces.

Ha! How I laugh now at such naive foolishness.

What we figured was this:

If each appisode features one of the four storylines, then there’s a danger people will pick a favourite character and only end up watching every fourth appisode. This means they won’t get sucked into stories which may not have an instant appeal, will miss anything exciting which develops later on and, in all probability, will stop watching once their particular favourite has run its course.

That will never do.

Each appisode has to feature at least two storylines. The simplest thing to do would be to split each appisode in two and run stories A and B on day one, C and D on day two, A and B on day three … and so on.

Except, you then have a similar problem – someone who only likes story A will only watch alternate days and if story B isn’t to their liking and they never see any part of C or D … once A runs its course they might just give up. What we needed was some kind of formula which meant different storylines run together on different days.

For reasons I can’t really recall, someone (me?) decided it would be best to have thirty seconds of one story and one minute of a second in every appisode – expecting, of course, the appisodes to run longer than one-minute thirty and to edge closer towards our two minute goal.

With that in mind, I devised the following, fiendish formula. Or Matrix, as he called it – again, for reasons which escape me:

 WRITER A = RED

 WRITER B = BLUE

 WRITER C = GREEN

 WRITER D = PURPLE

 

CAPITAL LETTER = one minute segment.

small letter = thirty second segment.

Wed 1st: a b c d

Thurs 2nd: A b

Fri 3rd: B c

Sat 4th: C d

Sun 5th: D a

Mon 6th: A b

Tues 7th: B c

Wed 8th: C d

Thurs 9th: D a

Fri 10th: A b … and so on.

The first and last day of each month, along with special occasions (Christmas, New Year, Valentines Day … whatever) will feature all four storylines so regular viewers will get exposed to all current storylines whether they want to or not.

Make sense?

Good.

What do you think of all the pretty colours?

In addition to the full Matrix, each writer also gets something like this:

a A a A a A a A a A a A a a A a a

Wed 1st:     a b c d

Thurs 2nd:    A b

Sun 5th:     D a

Mon 6th:    A b

Thurs 9th:   D a

Fri 10th:    A b … and so on.

The first line shows the order of their thirty second/one minute scenes. The rest shows which days the appisodes fall on because, as someone pointed out the first time I mentioned the Matrix, the stories have to run more or less in real time or it becomes really confusing. Story A can’t all happen in one night if Story B happens over the course of a year. Appisode one happens on the 1st, Appisode two on the 2nd … and so on.

Although you can cheat a cliffhanger across consecutive days, you can’t really do it three days later. In this example, Writer A can have a scene on the 5th finish on a cliffhanger and be resolved on the 6th; but not a cliffhanger on the 6th which comes back to the same scene on the 9th – people rarely stand still for that long.

At this point, your head should be spinning and the fear should be setting in. There are a lot of rules here. It’s an incredibly tricky technical challenge without the pressure of actually having to be entertaining. If you factor in actually writing good material, limited locations, characters and props … it’s edging towards bastard hard territory.

And then there’s this thought: the total running time of each story is only twelve minutes (ish); but each story happen in real time for a month. True, we’re not seeing all of it, just dipping in and out; but given each story takes the characters a month to live – it has to be closer to a feature film in scope and complexity. These aren’t short stories as such, they’re more like feature films we dip in and out of for thirty seconds or a minute at a time.

Let’s shovel a little more shit onto the poor, drowning writers. Each story gets broken up into approximately 17 pieces (10 thirty seconds, 7 full minutes) and each piece needs to move the story on, advance character or add a new twist … completely on its own. It can’t be an extension of the preceding two scenes – it has to be a complete beat in and of itself.

In a normal script, scenes run together to form sequences which complete a single beat. You can’t do this here, there isn’t time and it’s hard to link scenes together when they’re separated by a couple of days.

So the stories have to:

  • Be extremely limited in terms of characters and locations (the fewer the better the cheaper)
  • Take an entire month to unfold
  • Be split into seventeen beats – seventeen separate things need to happen/change/twist/develop
  • Be told in alternating minute and thirty second segments
  • Pay attention to the matrix – if your character’s a banker and your next logical scene takes place at work but it’s a Sunday … you need to either find a damn good reason for her to be at work, or have yourself a tea break and a rethink.
  • Involve www.i-heart-u.co.uk in some way, shape or form

Like I say, the only saving grace for me was I wouldn’t have to fucking do it. If I thought I was going to have to do it, I’d have made it much, much easier.

As it happens, I did have to when one of the writers dropped out because of other commitments.

Bugger.

The thing is … it’s actually kind of fun, in a twisted way. It doesn’t take much time to write and the technical challenges are as interesting as the dramatic ones: how can I make this dramatic? And cheap? And short?

Does all this interest you? Or fill you with fear and the desire to run away?

If it’s the latter, congratulations – you’ve passed stage one of the sanity test.

If it’s the former … come this way …

We’re looking for extra writers to bump up the core team. Hell, we’re looking for extra writers full stop. This is intended to be a long term project and if it’s successful we’re going to need a lot of scripts.

If you think you could write to this brief, we’d love to hear from you. The plan is to get well ahead of the game, rather than have just four writers scrabbling to keep on top of things. Anyone who’s interested can write for us as many times as they like and we’d love to keep coming back to the same talented writers. On the other hand, if you want to have a go once, just to see if you can do it – that’s cool too. There’s plenty of scope for both returning and one off characters.

If you have one idea or a thousand, we’d love to hear them and from you. Drop us a line at info@app-media.com* and we’ll send you some more details.

——————————————————————————–

* Put ‘I’M FUCKING CRAZY ENOUGH TO WANT TO WRITE FOR YOU’ in the subject line – no one there will understand why and it will probably get snagged by the spam filter; but it will amuse me immensely.

Ha ha! If you did skip the post looking for this opportunity – you have no idea what it’s all about. This too amuses me greatly.

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Categories: Opportunity, Persona | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Writing for Persona

  1. laurence timms

    Is there an App for this App?

  2. Give us a chance, we haven’t finished shooting it yet!

    There should be one later this month.

  3. Pingback: I Heart Persona « Swords and Lattes

  4. Pingback: Persona – 9 days to go! « The Jobbing Scriptwriter

  5. Pingback: Notes from the other side Part One: What it’s like to be a Script Editor | The Jobbing Scriptwriter

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